The Dead wrapped up their 2009 tour with two solid shows back home at Shoreline Amphitheater and then an end-of-the-tour barn burner at The Gorge in Washington. The tour started a little ragged back in April, but after the band worked out the kinks, they appeared to be in fine form. Each night of the tour featured a “dream show”-worthy setlist and made me almost nostalgic for an old school predictable setlist – devoid of such treats as “Viola Lee Blues” and “New Potato Caboose.”
All kidding aside, Warren Haynes has proven himself to be truly the hardest working man in show business. He became the nucleus of this new Dead machine, and his playing could be gently delicate in an “ice petals revolving” kind of way one moment and then full-on warp-drive ferocity the next. Also Jeff Chimenti proved himself night after night sitting at the keys. His tasteful, crystalline playing was spot-on. Hope he’s got good life insurance.
You can get soundboard recordings of the tour from Dead.net and finally the “core four” have allowed the Live Music Archive to host Audience recordings of concerts from the 2003-2004 incarnations of The Dead as well as the Barack Obama benefits last year. There are some sweet sounding AUDS out there and its fun to have access to those ’03 and ’04 shows with Jimmy Herring and Joan Obsourne.
Perhaps one day some soundchecks and rehearsal tapes will also surface, but for now, let’s look at the following bits of archaic lore…
September 29th – October 1st, 1971 Santa Venetia, California – The Keith Godchaux Rehearsals
1971 was a year of transition for the Grateful Dead. They followed up 1970’s duo of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty with the eponymous Grateful Dead — a double live album that the band originally wanted to call Skull Fuck. It spotlights a much different band than appeared on the 1969 lightning-in-a-bottle live set that was Live Dead. Sans Mickey Hart and keyboardist Tom Constanten, the band was running leaner and meaner. They had introduced a dearth of new material like “Wharf Rat,” “Playing in the Band,” and “Bertha” — songs that would become concert staples, but the band’s psychedelic explorations were sharing setlist space with cowboy tunes like “Mama Tried” and “Me and My Uncle” and classic stompers like “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Not Fade Away.”
Keith Godchaux came on board late in the year. His first gig with the band came three weeks later on October 19th, 1971 at the University of Minnesota. Keith’s focused, jazz-inflected playing would become an integral part of the band’s sound for the next seven and a half years.
(Click on the date to go to the tunes!)
September 29, 1971
China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Bertha, El Paso, Brokedown Palace, Bird Song, Jack Straw, Tennessee Jed, Mama Tried, Uncle John’s Band Jam, Me And My Uncle, Truckin’
September 30, 1971
Brown-Eyed Women, Playin’ In The Band, Jack Straw, Deep Elem Blues, Big Railroad Blues, Promised Land, Attics Of My Life, Tennessee Jed, Me & Bobby McGee, Mexicali Blues
October 1st, 1970
Deal, Tennessee Jed, Jam, Brown-Eyed Women, Casey Jones, Jack Straw, Mexicali Blues, One More Saturday Night, Loser, Cold Rain & Snow, Ripple, Uncle John’s Band, Bird Song
These recordings were made at a studio in Santa Venetia, California. There aren’t any major jams, but there are some very interesting early takes on some songs. Fans of the “garage band” sound of Skull Fuck or the minimalist country rock and blues of Three From the Vault will enjoy these loose sessions, but they serve primarily as a historical footnote to what was a fulcrum point for the band’s sound.
Check out the early Bob Weir-only versions of “Jack Straw” with alternate lyrics. There’s also a charmingly ragged take on the ever-elusive “Ripple” and a real honky tonkin roadhouse version of “Deep Elem Blues.” The majority of these songs would become concert workhorses, but “Deep Elem” and “Ripple” were rarities. Once again we get a rare “Attics of My Life.” It would be two years before the band played it outside of rehearsal again.
Towards the end of 1971, with Keith in place, the band began to develop a lush, dense sound that would flourish in 1972 and culminate in 1974 with the “Wall of Sound” — the band’s immense, state-of-the-art Minas Tirith-sized sound system. We saw epic-length shows, long jazzy explorations through mammoth “Dark Stars.” Even the band’s overplayed FM radio staple “Truckin'” morphed into a dynamic vehicle for musical exploration. Keith Godchaux’s time on the bench covers some of the best years of the Grateful Dead.
Sadly, with the arrival of Keith came the eventual departure of Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan. As Pig’s health declined, the band’s sound became increasingly shaped by Keith. Pig would perform his final shows with the band the following summer.
Bob Weir – 1971 Acoustic Demos
In the fall of 1971, Bob Weir and songwriting companion John Barlow worked out a batch of songs at Bob’s house in Marin. The songs — “Cassidy,” “Black-Throated Wind,” “Jack Straw,” and others would become among some of Weir’s best. Here is a recording of those sessions. Essentially it’s Bob sketching out the songs on acoustic guitar. He hums melody parts, bits of lyrics. It’s a very interesting and revealing listen to these songs in their embryonic state.
Many of these songs would appear on 1972’s Ace — Bob Weir’s solo debut/ unofficial Grateful Dead album that bridged the Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty material with the new songs that appeared on Europe ’72. Ace is definitely one of the great overlooked albums in the Dead’s catalog. While many of Grateful Dead rehearsal tapes are in circulation, this is a very rare and candid look at the actual songwriting process.
Enjoy the tunes, share the love, and I’ll meet you back here next week!